October is Respect Life Month. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington sponsors two programs: Gabriel Project for expectant mothers, and Project Rachel, which offers assistance to anyone who has been affected by abortion and seeks reconciliation and healing. Jo Balsamo offers valuable insights and important data. Most of all, she ensures that hope need not be lost.
By: Jo Balsamo, Program Coordinator, Project Rachel/Gabriel Project
Terminating a pregnancy abruptly can cause unresolved issues for those who experience it. And if we have unresolved issues, they affect us—and our relationships with God, our spouses, our children, our families and our friends.
When someone calls our office for help, I always know it is a soul who has been wounded by abortion. There is a silence on the other end of the line, and I know by the hesitation in their voices in those first few seconds that it is someone looking for help.
Many tell me that they go back and forth, scared and unsure about whether to call—but after seeing the information over and over, they finally find the courage to let the call go through. I acknowledge the courage it took to call and encourage them in their first step toward wholeness.
I believe that the Holy Spirit starts stirring when a person’s heart is open to healing. That—in conjunction with other major life events, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or relationship, or some other major event—triggers the realization that they are in need of healing. I find that often when people call our helpline, it is the first time they have ever shared their secret with anyone. One woman told me that she printed out a poem on our website and carried it in her purse for two years, reading it every single day, before finally gathering the courage to seek help.
While not all women who experience abortion will report negative spiritual and/or psychological consequences, many do. I have been told over and over again of the psychological and spiritual nightmares some have faced since their abortions. They report feeling isolated and alone, struggling with eating disorders and substance abuse problems; being unable to bond with their living children; guilt, nightmares, relationship problems and depression; feeling they don’t deserve to be loved or forgiven or happy; feeling that they have committed an unforgivable sin and that there is no hope for their salvation. The spiritual and psychological consequences they face after abortion are all too real.
Studies of the psychological effect of abortion on individuals report that:
- 65% of women report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that they attribute directly to their abortions; slightly over 14% reported all the symptoms necessary for a clinical diagnosis of abortion-induced PTSD; 64% said they felt pressured to abort; and 60% said they felt “a part of me died” (Rue et. al., 2004).
- 39% had eating disorders (T. Burke with D. Reardon, 2002).
- 48% had had a previous abortion (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2002).
- 67% received no counseling before the abortion; 84% did not receive adequate counseling; 79% received no counseling about available alternatives; and 54% were not sure about their decision at the time (V.M. Rue et. al., 2004).
- Women who had abortions had a fivefold higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse (D.C. Reardon, P.G. Ney, 2000) than those who did not.
- Two national records-based studies from Finland found that women who had an abortion were six times more likely to commit suicide in the following year than women who gave birth (Gissler, Hemminki & Lonnqvist, 1996); M. Gissler, 2005).
- Additional statistics can be found here.
Spiritually many do a direct U-turn from God, believing that they have committed a sin that is unforgivable. The act of abortion goes against everything that God created us to be: women as nurturers and mothers, and men as protectors and providers. It is not natural for a mother to take the life of her unborn child. This often leads to low self-esteem, an inability to forgive oneself, self-punishing behaviors, isolation, fear, self-loathing and despair. Many women go to confession over and over again yet still do not feel forgiven or worthy of God’s mercy and love.
It is safe to say that no matter where you are at any given time, someone within earshot of you has been touched by abortion. Furthermore, it is usually a carefully guarded secret that no one talks about—most people don’t sit around having coffee with their girlfriends talking about their abortions. And we can’t assume that it’s not happening all around us just because we’re not hearing it.
What we can expect is that the seeds we plant by speaking with empathy and compassion will issue an invitation to healing that will take root, giving those in need of healing the grace eventually to reach out for help.
Respect Life Month in October can be very difficult for those living with painful memories of a past abortion. Help plant the seeds of healing in your community by making information available for those in need of healing so it can be taken in a safe and confidential manner. Let them know there is hope for their future. For more information on how you can help, please call (703) 841-2504 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you love is struggling after abortion, please call 1-888-456-HOPE for confidential help.